Five Days In
“This is it, this is the one”, I think as I peek down the steep cliffside at a massive 3x4 mule deer. Christ, I blew enough stalks in the last five days, the odds have to be in my favor at this point or so I tell myself. This has got to be the one. I gasp for whatever air is willing sacrifice itself to my lungs as I press my back against the cliff that is hiding me from the summation of nine months training.
“Don’t blow it”, I whisper to myself out loud. I lay my bow down next to me, making sure the aluminum body doesn’t bang up against the rock. Shit… you could hear a cricket piss the air is so still. Hurricane force wind for five days and at this exact moment in time I sit in a perfect vacuum.
My head eeks its way over the rock barrier, like a shy groundhog popping it’s head out of it’s hole in hopes of a tasty insect in its near perimeter.
The insect is there, right where I left hi.
Get a true yardage this time. Do it slowly. Make pretend this isn’t a big deal. Remember what you learned from the previous days’ blown stalks.
35 yards. That’s one third of a second flight time. An easy toss of a football. Nine strides of an elk. And the lunar distance from sure success.
The arrow nock clicks into place, I twist my peep clockwise, look between my red and yellow pin and run through the shot as the synapses in my brain fire like the pistons in an F1 formula car.
“Stop overthinking it.” The bow is drawn back as I twist counterclockwise and stand up.
He sees me, but has no idea what I’m doing. A steep quartering away shot at an even steeper angle. His eyes bore into me and I do my best to ignore him. His girlfriend throws out a snort and stomps like a pissed off hussy waiting to leave the club.
“Hold on sweetheart, you’ll get your chance to run.”
I pick my spot and imagine how the arrow will play out. Go time.
The arrow bends and waivers from the raw energy it holds as it screams through the rest. Released from my influence, now has it’s own job to do.
He sees it coming, but is frozen. I wonder to myself if this will be the way I go out, looking at death coming straight for me, but too paralyzed with fear to do a damn thing about it. You come into this world screaming with fear of the unknown and leave it horrified at the realization you have no control how you’re gonna go out.
That distinct “thud” brings me back into the moment. Left of the spine about halfway back. Without hesitation the arrow continues to release its pent up energy out the chest of the mulie.
I sit back baffled as the mulie fires up the afterburners and makes for the other side of the high alpine bowl. Like a kid stung by a hornet, there is no particular destination that will ease the pain, just getting the hell away from spot that caused it is good enough.
He acts oddly, as one would think when a 29 inch shaft of carbon and aluminum lead by a pair of razor gills blows through its pipework. He tears ass for several hundred yards, then stops on a dime, and does short, tight circles. Then takes off again like he was being chased by Lucifer himself.
“Shit... “ I say to no one in particular. “How did I botch that one up?”
Perhaps a bit high, but I thought that would have pinned him to the ground.
The glass comes back out and I follow him for next two and a half hours. He spooks other deer as they see death on his face and they run away like it’s a contagious disease.
Finally he comes to a rest and lays down two thirds the way up the mountainside. There’s no trees to hide him from my vision as we are well above treeline.
My mind races to a couple scenarios I hoped I would never have to face. Wait him out? Stalk in for another shot? Call in for an airstrike?
My gut tells me put another arrow in him. Research tells me to wait him out. My lack of contacts and resources tell me the airstrike is not an option.
I think about the blog articles, the books and the old timers that preached waiting them out to die. Something about that just doesn’t seem right. I have to be honest, I’ve never been in this situation. Every big game animal I shot settled into its deathbed within a hundred yards.
I was on foreign soil here. So like a sucker, I ignore my gut and opt to follow protocol.
My glass stays on him until I can’t tell if I’m looking at the mountainside or the inside of Hitler’s soul.
I crawl into my sleeping bag defeated and proceed into a night of lucid dreams about having to wrestle a deer in hand to hand combat for his life. My conscious has always reeked havoc on my dreams when I think I made the wrong decision. This wasn’t the first time and I can assure you, it won’t be the last.
Donkey kicking off my sleeping bag in a fever dream, I wake up and am determined to finish what I started.
The spotter is still set up from the night before and I settle into it.
I knew before I even looked… gone.
“You knew he would be, don’t act surprised”
“Don’t give me that, it was a coin flip, either way we were wrong.”
As the sun struggles with an appearance from behind the clouds, so does the voices within. I make short work of becoming enemies with myself this morning.
“You go with your gut and give the middle finger to the magazines, the Youtube videos and all the so called experts. They make a living by having an opinion on what you do out here. There are too many variables in any given situation in the deep to try to sum it up in one neatly wrapped article.The only expert is that primal beast you tap into when you put yourself in these neolithic situations. If you stopped fighting it and let it take over, you wouldn’t be here right now.”
I can’t find a valid argument to that. Hind sight is a bitch, but I know down to my toes, that if I went in for that stalk to finish him, I wouldn’t be in this situation right now.
“Let go, damn it. Why do you carry that outside shit in here with you? You’re alone in the middle of nowhere because you didn’’t want any outside influence. You wanted to tap into those raw times when people didn’t just do this for sport, they did it to survive. If they didn’t make that connection, they didn’t eat. This isn’t a fucking game. Your hands wounded something and didn’t do the right thing because you looked to the outside for help. You wanted control because that is how you live your life day in and day out. Instinct has all but gone out of the window with you. Let go.”
We have liftoff.
And just like that, the hands left the steering wheel. The car slowly listed towards the median as I let go of control while simultaneously going out of it. Expectations, disappointment and most of all control left the atmosphere.
Slide her on cruise control, put the seat back and let go of the wheel. I want to be first to say to you; welcome to DAY FIVE*.
* Five days in the backcountry seems to be the magical time where my outside influences are forgotten or dropped. I truly believe if you aren’t staying this long in the backcountry, you aren’t hunting in your most primal state, you are merely chasing game. This isn’t good or bad, both have their ups and downs and there is a reason for each.
Side note: I spent the rest of the day clearing out every living creature from that high alpine bowl. What little blood I did find lead to nowhere. Every tree, rock and nook was searched. Nothing. Losing him was a strong reminder to stay humble out there. I never left the hunting grounds with more enthusiasm and determination to make myself a better hunter. 3d competitions, Tom Brown’s tracking classes and all sorts of other training was set into motion the moment I stepped in my front door. I know we can’t control all factors in the backcountry, but I owe it to the animals I chase to eliminate as many as I can. Afterall, they pay for my mistakes with a wasted kill. Become the most proficient hunter you can before you step into that woods, then, well then let go of the illusion of control and trust your instincts.